A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
At the end of your dinner at Acadia, you will realize — if you don't already — that the venerable Hillcrest bistro is in the upper tier of Little Rock restaurants.
And if you happen to be enjoying that dinner on a Monday or Tuesday, as so many do, you'll have a hard time believing the three-course meal you just devoured has set you back only $24.50, a total that's easy to blow past if you have three courses in much lesser, even chain, restaurants.
There is no bad day to go to Acadia — and word is it might start opening on Sunday later this summer — but the fixed-price deal makes those early workweek days most appealing. Assuming desserts are about $6, our two meals on another night would have cost $77 vs. the $45 we paid. And they would have been well worth it. But who are we to scoff at a 42 percent discount?
Those not familiar with Acadia, or this deal, might assume it's a short-term ploy to lure customers on traditionally slower nights and impress them enough to come back again and again. And most of that is true — just not the "short-term" thing, as owner James Hale and manager Gregory Robinson have offered the prix-fixe deal for at least 10 years, at gradually increasing prices. (Hale opened Acadia in 1999, and Robinson came on board in 2001.)
But all discounts and math equations aside, no restaurant in this fickle industry would have thrived as long as Acadia has — and no decade-long deal, no matter how enticing, would support a restaurant — without serious on-plate credentials.
We're a sucker for pan-seared scallops ($11.75 normally) and never have come close to perfecting the craft at home (this is one dish that fabulous non-stick cookware does no favors for). So we can never not get them at Acadia. These are perfectly prepared — subtly herbed, browned nicely, plump and juicy, not the least bit rubbery as they adeptly straddle that fine line between under- and overcooked.
The other appetizer that graced our table was a fabulous pair of small duck enchiladas ($10.75). Small corn tortillas were filled with shredded duck that was subtly spiced and teamed with black beans and cheese. Those whose first duck eating experience owed to a 12-gauge Remington blast on a cold early morning near Humnoke would never peg this meat as duck. Nor would they expect to find these jewels resting on a savory but smooth sauce combination the menu defines as "housemade ranchero sauce and lime creme fraiche." These are over-the-top good.
We had a lively debate about whose entree was "better," and after taste-testing each other's, we decided both, while very different, were outstanding, and that each of us was glad we'd chosen what we did. Across the table it was hard not to marvel at the mammoth bone-in pork chop ($19.75). It was thick, tender and the light demi-glace complemented rather than overwhelmed the pork. And then there were the dreamy, gooey, rich potatoes au gratin that accompanied them. Gruyere was a wise choice of cheese, as it too was subtle as opposed to sharper cheeses that can dominate the dish.
Our pan-fried walleye ($21.95) was not as imposing as the huge portion of pork, but it was ample and just as flavorful and masterfully prepared. "Pan-fried" can connote "grease (or butter) laden," but not in this case. The delicate taste of the firm, tasty fillet shone through, and the cornmeal crust was just a hint crisp but not over-applied. We're not sure when orzo became common in these parts, but we've been gobbling it up ever since. The little rice-shaped pasta is the perfect sop for killer sauces, in Acadia's case a creamy leek-based sauce. A tartish red cabbage slaw provided a needed taste counterbalance.
Were we not already committed via "the deal," we never would have ordered dessert. But, despite what Meatloaf swears, two out of three is bad when you're in the fixed-price dining world. So we soldiered on. The mixed-berry cobbler was solid but not spectacular, the crust a bit crumbly. The vanilla bean ice cream that topped it was fabulous.
Our blueberry bread pudding offered a nice twist on the classic form, but the caramel drizzle was applied a little too liberally and didn't provide a pleasing taste combination.
Or maybe we were just too full already to properly appreciate our desserts. No matter. Acadia continues to shine brightly in every way — ambiance to service to quality to wine list to, especially on Monday and Tuesday, price. Check out the menu at www.acadiahillcrest.com, and start formulating your fixed-price battle plan.